Interview with meteorologist Serena Giacomin. Nature is art: the creative side of science.

She is one of the leading faces of TV weather and has made it her mission to popularize science.

We met Serena Giacomin, on the occasion of the presentation of her book Weather You Choose Weather You Find, to talk about reliable forecasts and environmental sustainability, but also about the accessibility of scientific culture and how to reconcile an ambitious career with motherhood.

For Serena Giacomin, her journey towards discovering meteorology began with sailing, when, at the age of eight, she stepped foot on a boat for the first time; and from that day on, she has never stopped gazing at the sky and sea.

A degree in physics, a master’s degree with a focus on renewable energy, a certification as a Professional Meteorologist, and endless study and training, because nature offers infinite surprises. A path crafted from genuine curiosity and a lot of determination, spirit of observation and a nonstop search to find answers to endless questions. I meet Serena in a literary café in the center of Milan after the presentation of her book Weather You Choose Weather You Find; we sit down for a chat in which her passion for natural phenomena manages to reveal a creative side of science.

1. Your destiny as a meteorologist seems already written in your name “Serena,” but a career in the world of science is certainly not an easy one. How did your curiosity about natural phenomena and atmospheric phenomena in particular begin?

– Serena Giacomin: Was I was 8 I started sailing, thanks to the passion shown to me by my Dad. For this reason, I developed a lot of curiosity towards natural phenomena related to air and water: understanding and interpreting the behavior of wind and the sea are important aspects for those who go out to sea, first of all for safety, but also to win races! So I started carefully observing the sky and studied it thoroughly, year after year, until I finished my physics degree. And then? I continued to study, because you never stop learning, especially when dealing with the chaotic and turbulent soul of our atmosphere.

2. After graduating in physics, you went to work for Eni, but there were too many questions left unanswered and your desire to continue studying – and discovering – the wonders of nature kept gnawing at you. So – courageously – you gave up a career with solid prospects to pursue the dream of science. At ClassCNBC, as an author and TV host, you made us understand how many of the seemingly distant phenomena instead affect us closely. What has been the key to bringing the public’s attention to topics that are certainly fascinating, but also complex?

Serena Giacomin: The key to communication is always the same, although over the years I have tried to refine it: put yourself in the shoes of the listener, always, every day, without ever taking anything for granted. Science is useful and engaging, pervading almost every aspect of our daily lives. Awakening curiosity requires humility, imagination, anecdotes, examples, and even fun. Very important aspects and notions can also be taught with these methods, such as the value and meaning of a weather alert, a message that if properly interpreted can really save lives.

3. In 2015, another milestone: you join the Epson Center for Meteorology. What are the basic rules of a reliable and honest forecast?  

Serena Giacomin: First of all, call it a forecast, without giving the illusion of certainty, because the atmosphere is physically complex and it does not allow us and will not allow us in the future to achieve 100% accuracy. Then there are so many things that characterize a professional forecast from a fraudulent one: for example, the presence of the Reliability Index, enabling the user to understand how likely or unlikely a given forecasted scenario may or may not be; another clue concerns long-term forecasts… because weather forecasts are like fish after a few days, they stink!

4. Everyone’s day starts by consulting weather forecasts on their smartphone, and before we leave for a vacation, we all go crazy looking for the most reliable weather app to determine our plans. There is a lot of information about weather, but weather phenomena is not a simple science. It is precisely to guard against “weather hoaxes” and to use forecasts with awareness that you wrote Weather You Choose Weather You Find. Tell us about this intelligent guide to weather…

Serena Giacomin: Weather You Choose Weather You Find is a book for everyone, it tries to explain meteorology and the life of a meteorologist through stories, life experiences, anecdotes, and even interactive quizzes. This book has been called “a handbook that is not a handbook” because within it are many of the main explanations of the atmospheric physics, described in a “familiar” and understandable way. I started writing this book to bring some order to the confusion that revolves around the rigorous world of meteorology, a mess that can confuse anyone in need of weather forecasting, from those who will believe anything to those who are more knowledgeable. I hope it can be useful–and fun, too!

5. The problem of climate change directly affects each of us; yet culturally Italy is by no means an eco-friendly country. How can public awareness be raised in this direction?

Serena Giacomin: First of all by explaining that climate change is not a problem of tomorrow, but a problem of today. A huge problem that we should have already tackled head on. Now we find ourselves having to patch things up as quickly as possible, so as not to aggravate the situation. The public must be made aware by talking about the visible effects of Global Warming as much as possible in a correct and rigorous, but still understandable, way. The most important project, which I believe in quite a lot, is the Schools Project, activated by both the Epson Weather Center and my association the Italian Climate Network, to bring weather-climate issues to schools. I have a lot of faith in the younger generation: they will surely be much better and more aware than we are.

6. You have been a mom for almost a year (Filippo will turn one in December). What does motherhood mean to you and how is it possible to reconcile this role with your career?

Serena Giacomin: Motherhood has made me even more determined and motivated. I am lucky enough to do a job that I love and believe in. In the future, I would like everyone to think of meteorology as important, especially in terms of civil protection. And, of course, I believe in sustainable development that can be respectful of our abused climate. Thinking about Filippo makes me feel a chill: I believe that kids like him will have many problems to solve because of us. I don’t find that fair on a principle of trans-generational equity. And, as a mom, I am obviously sorry and concerned. Regarding career: my only career is doing things right; balancing motherhood and work, it’s not easy, but we can find solutions — albeit with effort — day after day.

7. From NMWA’s Italian Committee a question about art is in order. You are a very curious person and your partner is an accredited journalist in the field. What is your relationship with creativity? We are sure that you will surprise us in this too?

Serena Giacomin: You won’t believe it, but studying physics and mathematics has made me an extremely imaginative person. In some branches of this hard science there is a need for imagination to understand things thoroughly. The more rational part of the brain alone cannot do it. Take, for example, Relativity – because it is far removed from our way of understanding space-time – but there are also many other topics where mental abstraction is a fundamental tool. Perhaps I am a little more predictable in admitting that the most beautiful art is that of Mother Nature, unbeatable and always original.

The fact remains that, for me, creativity is the salt of life and art is a very powerful communication tool. It should always be put to good use!

(Article by Federica Galassi)